By Arthur Osborne

The Rodhisattva.... desirous of cultivating the virtue of love, should not eat meat, lest he cause terror to living beings. When dogs see, even at a distance, an outcaste who likes eating meat, they are terrified and think: 'These are dealers of death and will kill us!' Even the minute beings living in earth, air and water have a very keen sense of smell and detect at a distance the odour of the demons in meat-eaters, and they flee as fast as they can from the death which threatens them.

From the Lankavatara Sutra.

Is there any benefit from not eating meat? Or perhaps the question should be put the other way round: is there any harm in eating meat? I am not considering the question from a medical but purely from a spiritual point of view. One's body is not a mere tenement; so long as one remains an individual being it is a part of that being and, as De la Mare quaintly remarks:

It's a very strange thing,

As strange as can be,

That whatever Miss T. eats

Turns into Miss T

Various spiritual paths include physical as well as mental and emotional disciplines, aiming at a total harmonisation. On the one hand vibrations set up by a spiritual technique affect the body, while on the other hand the bodily state can facilitate or impede spiritual progress. Diet, therefore, cannot be a matter of indifference.

Considered theoretically, there is something to be said for eating meat; more to be said against it. In favour of it one can say that a sort of alchemy is carried on by the human body through which the lower orders of life are transmuted to the higher. But on the side of abstaining there is the consideration that the subtle essences of the food eaten are absorbed as well as the physical substance, and therefore one who eats meat is liable to strengthen his own animal tendencies. Apart from this, compassion forbids that I should expect other creatures to lose their' lives in order to nourish mine. So does vairaggya, the quality of equal-mindedness, which is so important in seeking Realization.

A factual survey of the religions shows no uniformity. The Jews can eat all meat except that of the pig and can drink alcohol. The Muslims are forbidden both pork and wine. Moreover the ban, though primarily on the pig, extends to all animals that do not chew the cud. Apart from this, however, the assertion in the Quran that God has created the animals as food for man seems to carry the implication that animal food is not merely, permitted but enjoined. A remark by St. Augustine shows that during the early centuries of Christianity the ban on non-ruminative animals was observed by Christians also. He justifies it symbolically by comparing such animals to people who gulp down information without ruminating ' upon it, thereby implying that the subtle qualities of the animals eaten are absorbed. The Chinese, like Christians of later centuries, observe no ban. The Vedic Aryans, and indeed the Hindus down to the time of Buddha, ate meat, even beef, and drank alcohol. To-day Brahmins (except so far as they are Westernised) are both vegetarians and teetotallers. So are certain other castes which seek to assimilate themselves to the Brahmins. The Kshatriyas and most of the low castes are meat-eaters. Even among the Brahmins vegetarianism can be variously interpreted: a Bengali Brahmin eats fish, whereas an orthodox South Indian Brahmin abstains even from eggs. Buddha, living in a meat-eating community, allowed his followers to eat meat provided it was not specially killed for them.

What this diversity amounts to is that in a physical matter such as the food eaten different trends of spiritual influence require different modes of adaptation.

For practical purposes the important question is whether there is any regimen which is suitable for aspirants in general in the conditions of the world to-day, and if so what. Because rules governing action are not static and for all time. Changing conditions of life require new adaptations, as may be seen, for instance, in the gradual adoption of vegetarianism in Hinduism. To some extent different religions still carry their separate obligations, but there are various indications that for aspirants in general, and certainly for those who are not following the strict orthodoxy of any religion, vegetarianism is indicated. One quite often meets aspirants who find spontaneously that their path brings them to a point where they feel an inner aversion to meat or even a physical inability to take it. It so happens that I have just to-day, while writing this, received a letter mentioning such a case: "He himself had stopped eating animal food because his body suddenly refused to accept it and he at first could not understand and rebelled somewhat until it gradually dawned on him that this might be a sign of spiritual development."

It is also noticeable that most Hindu ashrams, while indifferent to orthodoxy in general to an extent that would have been unthinkable in an earlier age, are very particular about vegetarianism. Outstanding examples of this are* Sri Ramanasramam and Anandashram, the ashram of the late Swami Ramdas. Special food is provided for Western visitors, but even this is vegetarian.

But above all, the Maharshi. In general he refused to give instructions for physical discipline. When asked about postures for sitting in meditation he replied simply: "One-pointedness of mind is the only good posture." When asked about celibacy he would not enjoin it but said that married persons also can attain Realization. But when asked about diet he quite emphatically prescribed vegetarianism: "Regulation of diet, restricting it to sattvic (i.e. pure and vegetarian) food taken in moderate quantities is the best of all rules of conduct and the most conducive to the development of sattvic qualities of mind. These in turn help one in the practice of Self-enquiry." The passage quoted continues with a Western lady pleading that a concession should be made for Westerners and with Bhagavan refusing to do so. It should be added that in ' sattvic food' he included milk, though an animal product, but not eggs, which are considered too stimulating or rajasic.

It was characteristic of Bhagavan that he would never enjoin vegetarianism on any devotee unless asked, but if asked he was quite categorical about it. If often happened in his lifetime, as it still does to-day, that even without asking his devotees would develop that aversion to animal food which I have mentioned as a general feature in the aspirant in modern times. In conclusion, it can be said quite definitely that vegetarianism is beneficial to those who follow a spiritual path in the conditions of the modern world, and especially to those who aspire to follow the path of the Maharshi.